Spreading the news about a deadly invader

Do you ever feel hopeless when it comes to invasive species? Don’t despair—residents like you are making a difference! Minnesota has some of the most progressive and advanced systems in place to deal with invasives. We have well trained professionals, engaged volunteers, observant residents, smartphone apps, and call-in lines that allow for quick confirmation. An invasion of poison hemlock in Minnesota brought all these systems together this year, leading to more identified infestations and greater management.

There is no better way to learn than to teach

UMN Extension forestry staff work with many state agencies on invasive species issues. During one of our jointly hosted workshops with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), I taught participants about invasive species from the carrot family (including wild parsnip, giant hogweed, and poison hemlock).

There’s an old saying by philosopher Benjamin Whichcote: “There is no better way to learn than to teach.” On a weekend bike ride shortly after teaching the workshop, I noticed something suspiciously like poison hemlock and reported it via the Great Lake Early Detection Network’s smartphone app.

The MDA confirmed the report early the following Monday, and decided to do a press release about poison hemlock—something that’s done a fair bit, but the press releases rarely get much attention. For reasons that aren’t clear, this press release was the exception, and it was picked up by 44 news outlets across the state! I heard it on Minnesota Public Radio, my local pop station, and saw an article in the local paper—it was amazing!

Springing into action

All that press caught the attention of observant Minnesotans, and the calls, emails, texts and smart phone app reports on new hemlock locations starting pouring in. Extension Invasive Plant Program Coordinator Dawn Littleton got to work with Forestry Program Coordinator Emily Dombeck and put together this great poison hemlock webpage. The dust hasn’t quite settled, but the phone isn’t ringing as often and we’ve had a few moments to reflect. To date, poison hemlock has been confirmed in 17 additional counties as a result of the public’s quick reporting (up from only 8 before the press release).

The hope is that we can continue to quickly identify and treat these new finds. More importantly, getting the word out can help save lives. Poison hemlock is deadly if consumed. This is the plant that killed Socrates and is referenced numerous times by Shakespeare. And while this plant is well known to some Europeans, it may not be as well known to us in Minnesota, and it can look similar to edible plants like carrot. To learn about identification and management of this deadly invader, check-out our new poison hemlock webpage.

Finally, thank you dedicated professionals, engaged volunteers and observant Minnesotans. Without you we wouldn’t have found these sites. Let’s all continue learning together!

Angela Gupta
Angie Gupta is an Extension educator with a focus on forest invasive species and private forest land management. She is based at the UMN Extension Rochester Regional Office.

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2 Comments

  1. What is the status of a weevil that has been studied at the U of M that eats only Garlic Mustard? I have a massive amount of Garlic Mustard on my property and would like to know if and when the weevil will allowed to be used.

    1. Thanks for your inquiry Spencer. We checked with Monika Chandler, the Noxious and Invasive Weeds and Biological Control Program Lead in the MN Dept. of Agriculture. Here was her response:

      Garlic mustard biocontrol remains in development. After almost two decades of host-specificity testing and two petitions to field release the crown and stem mining weevil, Ceutorhnchus scrobicollis, a Technical Advisory Group reviewed the latest petition and recommended field release. USDA APHIS PPQ received this recommendation and will make a final decision on whether field release will be permitted. They may require an Environmental Assessment with Finding of No Significant Impact.

      So, garlic mustard biocontrol has not been permitted yet, the initial releases will be in research plots, and host-specificity testing continues on two related weevil species.

      Monika also mention that the University of Minnesota and DNR will lead the implementation effort, but here is no implementation timeline until field release is permitted by USDA.

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